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Ben Maudlin

Registered Nurse, Prince of Wales Hospital

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Should governments globally be implementing population control measures?

The UN report issued in 2004 on the projected population growth predicted that world population growth would reach 12 billion by 2050. This is also the predicted capacity for the worlds resources and liveable land area.

What do we do after this point?

If we continue at the current growth rate of 2.05 children per woman then by 2300 there will be an unimaginable 134 trillion on this planet.

What's the solution?

With healthcare developing and people living longer where do we draw the line?

progress indicator
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    Dec 9 2011: I have a very strong sense that Earth's carrying capacity is 50 billion or more, and Humanity knows what to do in order for all resources to be shared and plentiful, for millions of years. (science)

    Also, if we stop burning stuff and releasing heat into space, we have plenty of time and resources to work together to find and populate another planet as well. If someone wants to have 20 children, why not? If they have the skill to manage their family without hurting others or creating additional suffering, the more the merrier.

    I am not sure about the 134 trillion people...perhaps over a few planets...that would be awesome.
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    Dec 2 2011: Absolutely not. Whatever the government, you can guarantee that decisions will be made on the basis of short term agendas and will in the long term be bad for those affected.
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    Dec 1 2011: By 2300, there might be 134 trillion people with more wealth than we could ever dream of.

    The year 2300 is in 289 years. Your prophecies are worthless, unless you take scientific solutions into account.
    289 years ago that's 1722 !!!

    You could've said in 1722 that 7 billion people could not survive on our planet's limited ressource. The land for farming was insufficient, the forests were insufficient for providing fuel, or the population density would favour an ultimate pandemic.

    Not only do I believe that our planet can hold 134 trillion people, with the right amount of knowledge, but I also believe that we unlimited ressources from our vast universe and that the future of people is not limited to Earth.

    What's the solution? you ask.
    • Dec 2 2011: Ben had used statistics to formulate his prediction of the population in future years (whether he is correct, I do not know. I'm neither an expert nor have I done the appropriate research). However, it almost seems as if you're saying "at our current rate of scientific progression we will be able to tap into the limitless resources of the universe". I don't believe thats a fair statement as scientific progression is not constant nor is it even somewhat predictable. There is no schedule to when scientific discoveries occur.
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        Dec 2 2011: You're right. Predictions are fallible. But if you care to make predictions anyway, you can see that scientific knowledge grows exponentially.

        Scientific progress is constant in societies that allow it to happen. But this is a brand new feature for humanity, so it's only been going on steadily since a few centuries ago.

        I don't know if we'll have solved every important issue by the year 2300, but saying that we won't is a weird statement that requires an explanation.
        • Dec 2 2011: I don't think its possible to quantify our current progress of scientific progression. There are countless variables that would have to be accessed. We have no idea where we stand in terms of progression. 50%? 60%? 0.0000000000001%? We could solve our fossil fuel problems tomorrow, or we might never solve them at all. Our scientific knowledge could very well be growing exponentially but we still have no idea of the scale or magnitude of the scientific knowledge required to accomplish such a feat.
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        Dec 2 2011: I agree that we don't know the magnitude of non-existing knowledge required to solve unsolved problems.
        I also agree that it's not easy to put a figure on scientific progression. But still, one can mesure growth of knowledge through technology. Computers and phones are easy examples of exponencial growth in functionality.
        • Dec 6 2011: @Jonathan Chu: There are people who have come up with technologies that would turn the world in the right direction in much less than 50 years. Tesla had designed technologies that would have had us on the right track a long time ago. But, sadly, fossil fuel companies have fought very hard to MAKE SURE that we do not solve the current crisis, for their own financial and schizophrenic gain. So when you say "we could solve our fossil fuel problems tomorrow" you are absolutely right. It comes down to the individual taking a stand, hence the occupy movement.

          I agree with you Gerald, though when you say wealth, I hope you don't mean financial wealth..
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    Dec 16 2011: After this point if not earlier people will die in great numbers. War, starvation, dehydration, you name it. Simple Population dynamics. This is not a very pleasent prediction, but at some point it must happen. Science can only delay this by finding new ways to reuse/recycle the resources we have or reduce the resources needed to make a certain product (which includes food and drinking water). I think the only resource that can't possibly be recycled are fissionable materials, but let's face it. Why should we?
    Let's just hope we adapt quickly enough to delay this scenario much much longer. And as some people have already suggested colonizing space might help a great deal. I would much rather spend my golden years on Mars than fighting for survival ;)

    Edit: all that doomsday-talk made me forget the actual question. Population control is tricky. In china for example it lead to a selection towards male-offspring through the abortion of many female fetuses, since women are generally not expected to be able to support their parents when they grow old. Similar developments could take place elsewhere. It might work, but it shouldn't be the first choice because of this risk
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      Dec 16 2011: it is a pity that you don't have time to watch TED talks. because if you did, you would be able to learn why are you completely wrong and in utter darkness by just watching the hans rosling talk mentioned in the top of this page.

      one more note: don't you feel some contradiction between "War, starvation, dehydration" and "Why should we"?
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        Dec 16 2011: I think there is some misunderstanding here. I am not a native speaker and also I sometimes get carried away by my own pessimistic predictions, so let me rephrase what I meant to say:
        When the population reaches a point at which its - or a big parts - basic needs for survival can not be met anymore, then there will be "war, starvation, dehydration". The actual number of people we talk about depends on the level of technologie and therefore to which degree we make use of resources (wastefulness or efficiency). But technological progress might at some point not be fast enough, so we could experience a catastrophe like the one mentioned by me before.
        I watched that talk when it first came out, but I must admit, had completely forgotten about it by now.
        I made similar assumptions about population growth, but simply didn't think something like that was possible. homo hominis lupus est (as I said when I am being pessimistic it worsens my mood and I get even more pessimistic. not actually a strength of mine, but I try working on it)
        So my solution to delay such an effect was simply better technologie to use resources and maybe expand the habitat of our species beyond our planet.
        And as for the "why should we"-statement: I meant to say, that all resources can be recycled except for fissionable materials, which would be stupid to begin with. No connection between that and "war, starvation..." intended. While we are at it let's get rid of all the nuclear waste we have and finally be done with Uranium-powered reactors ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Molten_salt_reactor ) ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AHs2Ugxo7-8 )
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    Dec 9 2011: We all know that this planet has finite resources; We also know that the developed world controls them.

    I forget the exact numbers but it’s something like 20% of the world has 80% of the wealth / resources. This first class world has forever exploited developing countries since acquiring these resources, and with the use of these resources has come technology, which has allowed the ability for further exploitation. This is why our TV's are cheap and our landfills are full.

    If you look closely at this, you will undoubtedly realise that there’s disproportion of resource sharing, always has been, and I propose, there always will be. I for a long time have held the belief that the population explosion won’t occur on the scale so many people predict. Reason being is because Net growth is Births minus Deaths. Some of the fastest developing countries begin exponential growth even amidst poverty, but then experience huge mortality rates and numbers diminish again, why?..... Resources. They either don’t have them, or don’t have what’s required to make use of them.

    For these developing nations to substantially contribute to long term population growth, they have to be stable and they must undergo Demographic Transition. The reason why today’s developed nations are so well developed is because they have already done this. They were able to do this a long time ago, because they had unthreatened resource access, they had the time, and they had the stability to do so without competition. Now the Western World enjoys slower growth rates as it has come off the exponential ramp of growth where the resources were essential to enable it to happen.

    If what I’m saying holds true, there’s no need for population control measures, they’re essentially already happening in the realm of resource control. Like I said, a country can’t develop without them, and those countries in question, essentially, don’t have them if we behave in such a fashion to make them our own.
  • Dec 9 2011: Well for one the planet can hold more than we are. We waste around 30% of the food on the planet, so with better distribution, one could technically increase the population considerably.
    But 134 trillion would be nearly 1000 people per sqare kilometer on the whole planet (only land). A coconut falling from a tree would have a fair chance of hitting someone. A natural disaster could wipe out trillions, such as yellowstone erupting etc. A disease would spread quicker than it is spotted. In other words, I think natural disastes and diseases, and our own quest for war, would create a limit to the amount of people on this planet, kind of like terminal velocity. Now if humanity had technology to stop those disasters, then I dont think we would be worried about little things like food.
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    Dec 1 2011: check your calculation, because 2.05 children per woman means a 1.5x increase in 15 generations